Taylor Slakman was enamored by the Brooklyn Campus of St. Joseph’s University, New York from the moment she first stepped foot on the Clinton Hill campus as a high school student.
Her love for the historic Clinton Hill campus continued to grow over the years, as she developed relationships with her peers and professors — and discovered passions for literature, creative writing and human rights activism.
“It’s kind of funny because when I received an email from the dean saying I had qualified (to become valedictorian), I was really hesitant of applying because it’s such a huge honor … It’s such a big deal,” Slakman recalled.
Slakman explained that she has so many intelligent, hardworking peers who she felt were at least equally deserving of valedictorian — adding to her hesitancy to apply.
“I was so shocked that I got it, to be honest with you,” said Slakman, who commutes to campus from Rockaway. “I got the notification when I was on my way to class, and I was just speechless.
“This school means a lot to me, especially because my sister (Deirdre Slakman ’16 ’18) went here, but also because I learned so much about myself from being here. The whole experience has been amazing,” she added.
Slakman, who hopes to enter a creative writing program in graduate school this fall, is busy meeting with Joseph D. Ross, Ph.D., associate dean for student success and associate professor of communication studies, and preparing her valedictorian speech — which she will deliver during the Toast to Graduates on April 21.
Valedictorian Appreciates Her Intellectually Rigorous Classes
Slakman chose to study at the Brooklyn Campus largely because of its small class sizes, and grew to appreciate the individualized attention she received from her professors.
“One of my best experiences at St. Joe’s was with the professors,” Slakman said. “I developed close relationships, where I’m able to explore different ways of doing assignments and different topics.”
Slakman remembered that in one of her English courses, she crafted a painting interpretation of something we were reading, rather than a traditional PowerPoint presentation. “And I think that summarizes my experiences here — I’m able to be creative, and try new things, and it’s even encouraged by professors.”
Slakman’s professors quickly became mentors, helping to mold her educational journey at St. Joseph’s.
Early in her studies, Slakman’s professors guided her as she changed her major from child study to English with a sociology minor, which aligned better with her interests. Her “Comparative Authors” seminar (ENG 450) with Associate Professor Thomas B. Grochowski, Ph.D., helped her pick her senior thesis topic, where she researched women writers of the Beat generation.
She even found herself using the writing strategies she learned in “An Introduction to Magazine Writing” (ENG 125) outside the classroom, when she started a new social media account to spread awareness about human rights issues she cares about.
Slakman was especially thankful of the Brooklyn Campus’ small class sizes and dedicated professors when she had to learn remotely amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was hard because I’m an English major, so a lot of class time is spent talking with each other,” Slakman said. “Doing group work over Zoom was hard, but I think we managed … In some cases, my friends and I would meet over Zoom to talk more about what we did in class.”
Rising to the Top
Slakman’s professors Dr. Grochowski and Susan Nakley, Ph.D., professor and associate chair of English, expressed their pride in Slakman’s academic accomplishments.
“Taylor is one of the three or four brightest students I’ve had in my 15 years at St. Joseph’s,” Dr. Grochowski said. “Taylor’s academic work is original and eloquent; her senior thesis, on women writers of the Beat generation, is worthy of consideration among the growing scholarly literature on the subject.
“Her passion for creative writing fuels the project — she is ‘rescuing’ what she calls ‘lost autonomous narratives’ of these writers with the rigor of a scholar and the vision of a poet. Both are crucial to her brilliance, and she is able to use them in her activism,” Dr. Grochowski added.
Dr. Nakley, who also served as Slakman’s academic adviser, said that the valedictorian’s classroom success and her pursuit of an interdisciplinary challenge is a perfect example of the value of the liberal arts tradition.
“I met Taylor as a timid Child Study major, who not only wanted, but truly needed to be challenged more deeply in the broad liberal arts tradition,” Dr. Nakley said. “St. Joseph’s is a nurturing community, and I was able to offer her close and individualized attention. However, it was not always easy to find courses and professors that would challenge such a gifted and talented young woman.
She continued: “Taylor ultimately needed more interdisciplinary opportunities than most of our students ever want … It took a few tries, but we found that adding a sociology minor and the guidance of Dr. Raymond D’Angelo was what this exceptionally brilliant student needed to soar.”
While Slakman is still busy working on her speech, she shared a few early words of advice to the Class of 2022: “Never forget what makes you happy and to try to find happiness in everything that you do.”